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In 2009, the average-size woman in the United States was a size 14 with a 36DD bust, which is certainly larger than a Victoria’s Secret model, notes a "Los Angeles Times" article.. Finding pretty underwear for even these average size women can be challenging enough, but it's even trickier for women who are larger than average. They need to find comfortable underwear that supports their bodies but doesn’t pinch or create lines under clothing. The underwear also needs to be something that doesn't resemble a parachute harness.
All is not lost for larger ladies. Underwear experts say there are plenty of options for women who are more curvy than straight.
Psychologically, a lot of ladies don't want to think about going into a larger, plus-sized department or store. But they shouldn't look at it from that point of view.
- Warden Neil, designer and stylist
Any woman with a cup size larger than a DD knows how difficult it is to find delicate and pretty bras that fit properly and offer support. Thin straps can dig painfully into shoulders, tight back straps create an unsightly roll, or there’s a raging case of the "double bubble," where the cup’s upper edge digs in and leaves a lumpy outline.
Warden Neil is a Hollywood stylist and designer who has worked with many stars, including curvaceous actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Kirstie Alley and Roseanne Barr.
He says particularly large-busted women need to go to store that specializes in their size, and some don't want to do that.
"Psychologically, a lot of ladies don't want to think about going into a larger, plus-sized department or store, but they shouldn't look at it from that point of view," Neil said. "No one's going to know the difference, so just be real and think, 'right now, I have to think about what's going to be most flattering to my body, I must go to whatever department I have to, to achieve that.'"
Some of the reluctance is because of the wide straps on larger bras. That ugly elastic can affect a woman’s ability to enjoy wearing a tank top or chiffon blouse. Neil says there are prettier options out there.
"The wider strap does have more support so it makes a lot of sense," he said. "But now you can get bras that give extra support in the reinforced underwire area and therefore they have thinner straps."
If you’re large busted, Neil says you really should wear a bra with straps. However, if you crave the bare-shouldered look of a strapless dress, he says there are some creative solutions to achieve the look. One option is a bra built into the dress.
"All it needs is attaching in the front," he said. "It's also good to find a dress that has boning in the sides for support. Building in the bra ensures that you stay in place, but it's got to have the underwire."
If sewing a bra into your dress seems too hard, a good corset is a simpler solution.
"But you've got to get a good one made with the boning on the inside, not the outside," Neil said. "You've also got to make sure that the fabric conceals the boning completely. It looks terrible when you can see the boning outlined through the dress.
Neil said there are some alternatives to corsets with boning.
"There is a new corset by Wonderbra, and I think several other companies are coming out with them now. It's long line, to the waist, and it's completely smooth with no boning. It's made out of a sort of stretch foam fabric with great support to it, even for extra-large busts. It’s amazing."
If you have the right underwear, but are still afraid your dress will slide down or move, Neil suggests Velcro or garment tape. You put a tab of Velcro on each side and one in the middle on the bra itself, then tabs of Velcro onto the dress so the dress and bra won't move. Neil says it will give you plenty of support, and won't show through the fabric. Velcro is available at dollar stores.
Garment tape, which is very strong double-stick tape, is available at most drugstores.
"Buy the best one you can afford, as cheaper ones won't stay stuck on -- they're not made to deal with any perspiration," he said. "Cut it into pieces -- one for each side of the bust, and one for the middle so your gown is firmly attached to you and won't move, no matter the size of your bust. The wider the tape, the better."
Keylee Sanders, stylist and owner of Style Studio of Los Angeles, says brands including Lane Bryant and Maidenform make underwear lines for the lower half of larger ladies. The larger woman just has to shop at the right stores and she can't skimp on sizing. A good fit is vital to prevent discomfort and visible panty lines.
"The most important point here is to buy underwear that is the right size. This is no time for vanity," Sanders said.
The panties should have elastic that doesn't pinch, a smooth-fitting waist and comfortable leg bands, she said. Sanders also advocates shape wear to create a smooth line under clothing. Shape wear, like the brand Spanx, works like an elastic body stocking that sucks in bulges and covers a multitude of fleshy sins.
"Spanx have changed the lives of many women, in fact, most women," Sanders said. "Women of all shapes and sizes love Spanx for their support and the way they make a dress lay smoothly on the body and can create a smaller waist."
You can also use control garments to give your figure a lift.
"These days we also find a lot of undergarments with padding in particular places," Sanders said. "For example, you can get some with butt pads that also control the tummy."
Alicia Brockwell, director of marketing for California-based lingerie brand DreamGirl, says to focus on comfort and stretch factor in the fabric when it comes to choosing regular panties for daywear.
"While not good for figure control, panties, boy shorts and thongs made
in a silky modal fabric will not pinch or cause bunching under clothes," she said.
"They are very forgiving and stretchy."